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English lessons 2

Happy Friday the 13th! Today's English lesson featured me being lazy.

I began by spending 20 minutes showing the mistakes in last week's papers, discussing a few other mistakes that I didn't add deliberately (I mentioned the sigh "mistake" about the multiple holy grails, explained both sides, and let them make up their own minds). I also pointed out that the problems I added deliberately were common ones in their own writing (I'll keep on adding such mistakes), and ended with a few remarks about professors being human, too.

I suppose that last bit deserves some more explanation -- I was suggesting that a few jokes or slightly less formal language could be good. If the paper isn't engaging, you'll lose titles. At a conference, your choice of title alone could double your audience. Remember your readers: they've just been on a plane for 10 hours, they're jetlagged, they meet a lot of old friends and collegues, and they're scanning the paper titles. You're competing against the other presentation(s) that are occurring at the same time, having coffee or beer with collegues from around the world, or simply returning to the hotel to sleep. If you want an audience, you'd better make the title worth it!

Err, I still didn't explain it. Despite the common opinion amongst most undergraduates and first-year graduate students, professors are not mindless automata who do nothing but read papers in stuffy, formal English. Frankly, nobody likes formal English, let alone profesors. Other than possibly my father. If you have sufficient command of the language -- and I must admit that most of them don't -- then spice it up a bit! In a tasteful way, of course.

In the similar vein -- actually, mostly because I didn't start it until 9:30pm on Thurs night and was too tired to pretend I had a pole up... err, I think naughty words might be censored here... *cough* anyway -- my paper for this week is written in a distinctly informal style: Ideas are a dime a dozen.

Unlike the previous (and future) papers, I didn't add any deliberate mistakes. Of course, in this informal style, sentence fragments like "Get real." are perfectly fine. That said, I can't break any rule of grammar I please. So if you see any mistakes in it... mistakes that don't follow the style of that style of writing... please let me know. I'll be putting an updated version of this on their English wiki in a few days.

PS I'm not actually quite as dismissive of position papers and surveys as this paper suggests. The history here is that I've received about ten papers forwarded from people in the group saying "there are some fantastic ideas in this paper!", when upon examination I found nothing that would be at all novel to the UVic MISTIC group. Now, maybe the UVic crowd are all super-smart or something, but I suspect that the problem is simply that these kids don't know the field.

English lessons

I held my first English session on Friday. It seemed to go fairly well, although I won't really know until I see their papers.

I told everybody write a 1-page introduction to a (possibly fictional) academic paper. On Friday, we all gave our papers to somebody else to peer edit. Next Friday, they'll do the same thing (after fixing mistakes), or hand it in to me.

I tried to scare them by emphasizing that it's a waste of my time to fix spelling mistakes or grammatical mistakes -- almost all of them have enough English skills that they can fix those things. Instead, I should be working on issues of organization and style -- pointing out how to make things sound more natural. I warned them that if I found obvious spelling or grammatical mistakes, I wouldn't spend any time on the more interesting issues, and they would have wasted their chance to get useful feedback from me.

I added a page to the group's wiki: English sessions. If you have any suggestions for other things to do, I'm all for it. My current plan is to do the same thing every Friday.

Oh, and I also wrote a 1-page paper introduction. Mine was about a fictional "tongue-based music browsing" project. It started as a total spoof, but now I actually think it might be a worthwhile paper to do. I'm certain it could be published in ISMIR... unless somebody else has already done it. I didn't bother looking for any related work. :)

Oh yeah, one final note: so that the person proofreading my work wouldn't get too bored, I deliberately added a number of mistakes to my paper. I aimed for common mistakes that I've noticed in their own writing. Test your own proofreading skills! See how many errors you can find in Tip o' the Tongue!

Going Native

I'm finally "here" now -- I just finished unpacking my bags. 4 weeks isn't too bad for living out of a suitcase, right? ... right? I also bought some flip-flops. It'll feel really weird to be wandering around in them (especially on the MRT and busses), but when in Rome, do what the Romans do, lah!

Last Saturday, I had to brave downtown Singapore. Well, maybe I didn't have to... but the closest music store (I mean, a real music store, ie one that sells musical instruments, not CDs) I could find was downtown. At the Esperante mall, which is at the Esperante theatre, which is Singapore's version of the Sydney opera house. Real swank, in (what seemed to me) the best part of town, etc.

I had to walk through prime tourist terrority to get there, though... for that matter, the whole complex was tourist territory. It wasn't as horrible as I thought it would be, but I still felt like an idiot. Especially since I was wearing a "Canada" t-shirt, since it had the most red of all my clothing. Red is an auspicious color for the Chinese New Year, which is apparently 15 days long.

In the evening, my supervisor had a "Spring music evening" party. Almost all his 14 students (including research staff) came, as did four or five professors and assorted wives and boyfriends (I'm pretty certain that was the exact breakdown). I know that all you Canadians don't believe that anybody can have "spring" stuff now. Neither do I, albeit for a different reason -- it feels like summer here. Although everybody's been saying how I came at the best part of the year because it's so cool and refreshing. WTM?! 30 degrees is `cool' now?!

Anyway, all the students did something musical. About of them did Chinese pop karaoke (complete with youtube videos for the background music), while the other half played guitar, sang (non-karaoke), and played piano. One guy did some magic tricks, and I improvised three pieces on the violin. I only had 10 minutes to practice violin in the afternoon (oh, I didn't mention: I was buying a shoulder rest and rosin. I could play without a shoulder rest, but the bow was in desperate need of rosin, so I hadn't practiced in the previous few weeks), but it came off relatively ok.

Monday lunch was a Chinese banquet (on the 8th day of the new year) for the School of Computing. It began with a... well, until today I thought that everybody here was calling it line dancing. I couldn't figure out what on earth Texas line dancing had to do with the Chinese New Year, but I always just nodded and smiled.

Turns out that everybody was talking about "lion dancing", not "line dancing". Whoops. Part of my confusion is that my vague memories of the Chinese New Year in Vancouver -- stemming from a grade 5 or 6 project on multiculturalism -- talked about "dragon dance", wherein a dozen or so people would dress up as a dragon and parade around.

I asked my supervisor about this after the banquet, and he'd never heard of "dragon dancing". I'll also note that the group at the lunch -- I'm sure they were professionals; they were very good -- only had two people in the costume. The quick, sharp movements were the same, as was the lavish costume. Maybe one area of China does a 12-person costume dance ("dragon"), while another area does a 2-person costume dance ("lion")? Or maybe the Vancouver version has evolved from the original Chinese tradition? Or maybe I'm misremembering from my elementary school classes 20 years ago and getting confused with the dragonboat races.

The actual lunch was an 8-course affair. Unfortunately it was quite lavish... luckily I had chickened out and declared myself a vegetarian for the affair, otherwise it would have been a disaster. Oh, for those who don't know: I'm very contrarian with food. The more expensive the food is, the less likely I am to tolerate it. If a meal costs more than about $10, I'm into "choking down the food (or not) to be polite" territory. There's no question of me actually enjoying the food. That's why I turned down a $75 salmon meal at the Empress Hotel in Victoria at ISMIR 2006 -- I enjoyed my $0.99 Kraft macaroni and cheese (plus about $0.20 in ketchup and $0.50 in diet coke) at home that night much more than I would have the banquet.

Anyway, it was all vegetarian stuff, so I could eat it without qualms. Other than the vegetarian shark fin soup. That was really thick -- it almost seemed like jelly! Even though it was vegetarian, the texture was so off-putting that I gave up after a dozen spoonfuls.

The location was really fancy -- it was the "alumni house" or "guild hall" (I heard it referred to by both names). Quite new, and quite expensive-looking. Not quite "Four Seasons" or "Pan Pacific" expensive (those are swanky hotels in Vancouver), but definitely on par or better than most places in downtown Vancouver. Not that I really know what there is in downtown Vancouver, since I avoid downtowns like the plague.

Anyway, I seem to be well-established here. There's still one local shop I should check out -- a "comic house". I'm not certain if it's a manga cafe (pay an hourly rate to read whatever books you want) or a store... and I'm not certain if they have Japanese manga or just books from other countries... but I figure that I should take a look. Buying real manga in Asia definitely seems like a worthwhile thing to do.

Then I think I'll check out the Chinese Garden. It's also within walking distance. So I might start doing really touristy things on the weekend after next... I'm not really breaking my resolve to do tourist stuff once a week; it's just that the local streets are sufficietly novel that I think they qualify. Everybody here says that it's good that I'm only staying for 5 months because otherwise I'd get bored with Singapore because it's such a small island... but I really don't think that'll happen. I mean, if it takes me a month to almost cover the area within a 5-minute walk of my house, I can't possibly imagine covering even a quarter of the island in 5 months.

Also, it rained for the first time today. I went outside and walking around in it; it was quite a downpour. On par with the heaviest rain I've seen in Vancouver. The rain gutters were very impressive! They were one of the first things I noticed about Singapore, but I always thought they were overkill. But having seen the massive downpours that we get here, I think they're very appropriate. Setting up the entire island with this system to both provide appropriate drainage and save water for consuption was a very smart move by the government. I have no idea how much it cost to implement the system, but it can't have been cheap.